Running outdoors, or trail running as it’s often known, is enjoying an increase in popularity as sales data from Sportsshoes.com shows a 62% increase in trail running equipment sales in the last 12 months.

Though dieters and fitness fanatics alike may have frequented the treadmill in the past to achieve their physical goals, health psychologist and Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) lecturer Dr Eric Brymer’s research looks into the mental health benefits of trail running.

As well as being great for your body, you can take the time to connect with nature.

Here are some of the health benefits of running out in the open:  

1. Connecting with nature

As the world becomes more connected and digital, Dr Brymer says it’s important to find time to spend in nature and get away from everyday stressors.

“Trail running has more effective, profound and long-term psychological health benefits because it’s done outdoors in nature.

“The simple pleasure of connecting to the natural world and realizing you’re part of something bigger can put you in an optimal frame of mind and reduce the risk of poor mental health,” he said.

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2. Improved physical health

Running outdoors exposes trail runners to uneven and different terrain.

Having to make these adjustments quickly means that runners strengthen and tone the abdominal muscles and lower back muscles.

In fact, trail running conditions more muscles than running on a treadmill as it uses the smaller, stabilising muscles required for lateral movement and balance.

3. Emotional weight loss

As well as the physical health benefits, there are plenty of mental health benefits too.

A recent survey revealed that over 40% of trail runners see trail running as a form of therapy.

88% of the trail runners surveyed agreed that trail running is cathartic; helping to release negative emotions such as ‘stress’ and ‘melancholia’.

4. Mindfulness

Trail running can keep you paying attention to what is going on ‘now’.

Being fully present in this way means that you are already automatically in a mindful state when trail running.

Mindful runner Dan Lawson, says: “When we practice running in our natural environment it brings a calm and stillness to the mind.

“It allows us to switch on to the beauty all around us."

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5. It’s varied

Many joggers and runners turn to trails when they become fed up with pounding the same long stretches of road, as the natural views are more pleasant to look at.

Trail runs can seem much less like hard work as they change each day you run thanks to the impact of different weather and light.

6. No barriers

Gym goers surveyed said their different reasons to not run included being ‘too tired’, ‘too expensive’ and having ‘a lack of motivation’.

However, nearly a third of trail runners in the same survey stated that there were no barriers to exercise at all, not even bad weather.

Dr Brymer suggests that green exercise in adverse weather conditions may have better, more effective, long-term well-being benefits as battling wind or rain gives you a more intense, exhilarating engagement with your surroundings.

Would you take up trail running? Let us know in the Comments section below.